Aaltos Italian Grill & Garden, Uppsala
“I always have a trip to Italy in mind.” - Alvar Aalto
In 1961, the world-famous Finnish architect was commissioned to design a new building for one of Uppsala University’s student unions. At the opening of the building four years later, many people admired the building and the skilful way it had been incorporated into its environment, while others derided it as a modern monstrosity insensitively dumped in the ancient city.
The union was pleased with it, however, despite one conundrum: one of the key points of Aalto’s commission had been to preserve the union’s gardens. The gardens had always been the soul of the organisation - a place to rest and work, study and socialise.
Aalto’s solution had been to rest the new building on 32 pillars above the old garden. His vision was for a new kind of garden underneath the house - a sheltered park, a leafy refuge, under cover for meditating students.
But darkness and damp got the better of this vision, and soon the space resembled nothing so much as a mouldy basement. Nobody wanted to spend any time there and later the area was enclosed and converted into retail properties.
And that’s where Stylt has now created a new, verdant meeting space in the form of an Italian-inspired grill restaurant - underneath Aalto’s modernist house. Because Aalto himself loved Italy, and drew a lot of inspiration from his trips there. In his youth, he dreamed of a Scandinavian revival of the Renaissance spirit, a new way of uniting our cultural heritage with the demands of modern society. His sketches for a new public square in his hometown Jyväskylä aimed to turn the town into a “nordic Florence”. In the fifties, he drew the Finnish pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and later a church in Riola di Vergato, near Bologna. Italy was close to Aalto’s heart and was a constant source of inspiration. As he put it himself: “I always have a trip to Italy in mind.”
We think he would have enjoyed a visit to the new restaurant underneath his house.
Aalto’s Italian Grill and Garden is also inspired by the Renaissance art of gardening. Renaissance garden designers wanted to erase the borders between garden, house and landscape. Italian Renaissance gardens are beautiful and orderly, filled with light, open spaces, symmetry and tranquillity. They are spaces for meeting, thinking, relaxing and escaping the presence - seductive and welcoming.